Before Ali Juma was jailed at the Shimo La Tewa Maximum Security Prison in Mombasa, he was an injecting drug user who was hooked to heroin.
Behind prison walls, he could not get his daily fix and the withdrawal symptoms kicked in.
To fight the symptoms, he was enrolled for methodone therapy, at the Kisauni Medically Assisted Therapy Clinic, which has rehabilitated 820 former drug users since it was launched in 2015.
Methadone is a substitute that reduces withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to drugs, without causing a ‘high’.
Together with 24 other convicts, Juma is ferried from the prison in Shanzu to Kisauni for their daily methadone dose, as part of rehabilitation.
The prisoners could soon get their dose right in the prison, following an announcement that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which funds the programme, is partnering with the county government, the National AIDS and STIs Control Programme (Nascop) and the prisons department to set up a new medically assisted therapy (MAT) clinic at the largest correctional facility at the coast.
Mombasa County also plans to establish methadone clinics at Port Reitz, Mwembe Tayari and Likoni. This will cut the distance patients from Mariakani, Changamwe, Jomvu, Mvita and other affected areas have to travel to access rehabilitation services.
According to the County Chief Officer in charge of Medical Services Khadija Shikely, the Shimo La Tewa Prison methadone clinic will be the second MAT programme in a prison in Africa, after Mauritius. The first dose of methadone is expected to be administered at the prison clinic on World Aids Day on December 1.
According to Nascop, there are about 18,300 drug users who inject heroin in Kenya, with some 10,000 in the coastal region.
They face a high risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B and other blood-borne viral diseases, due to sharing of contaminated syringes.
Taib Adulrahman, the executive director of Reachout Centre Trust, lauded plans to expand the rehabilitation programme to reach more injecting drug users, but urged the county to construct a rehabilitation centre for female addicts.
“The number of women using drugs is rising, but there is no single rehabilitation centre to cater for their needs,” he said.